Why Can I Hear Soft Sounds But Can’t Understand Conversations?

Woman struggling to hear her husband while camping.

Cranking up the volume doesn’t always remedy hearing loss issues. Think about this: Lots of people are able to hear very soft sounds, but can’t hear conversations. The reason for this is hearing loss frequently develops unevenly. You generally lose specific frequencies but have no problem hearing others, and that can make voices sound muffled.

Hearing Loss Comes in Numerous Types

  • Conductive hearing loss is caused by a mechanical problem in the ear. It may be a result of excessive earwax buildup or due to an ear infection or a congenital structural issue. In most circumstances, hearing specialists can treat the root condition to improve your hearing, and if necessary, recommend hearing aids to fill in for any remaining hearing loss.
  • Sensorineural hearing loss is more prevalent and caused by problems with the little hairs, or cilia, in the inner ear. These hairs move when they detect sound and send out chemical messages to the auditory nerve, which transmits them to the brain for interpretation. These fragile hairs do not regenerate when damaged or destroyed. This is why the ordinary aging process is often the cause of sensorineural hearing loss. Over the course of our lives, sensorineural hearing loss increases because we expose ourselves to loud noise, have underlying health problems, and use certain medications.

Sensorineural Hearing Loss Symptoms

You might hear a bit better if people talk louder to you, but it isn’t going to completely address your hearing loss issues. Certain sounds, such as consonant sounds, can become difficult to hear for people who have sensorineural hearing loss. This might cause someone with hearing loss to the incorrect idea that people around them are mumbling when actually, they are speaking clearly.

The frequency of consonant sounds make them hard to hear for somebody dealing with hearing loss. Pitch is measured in hertz (Hz), and the majority of consonants register in our ears at a higher pitch than other sounds. Depending on the voice of the person speaking, a short “o”, for example, will register between 250 and 1,000 hertz. Conversely, consonants such as “f” and “s” register at 1,500 to 6,000 Hz. Because of damage to the inner ear, these higher pitches are difficult to hear for individuals who have sensorineural hearing loss.

Because of this, simply talking louder is not always helpful. If you can’t hear some of the letters in a word like “shift,” it won’t make much difference how loudly the other person speaks.

How Can Using Hearing Aids Help With This?

Hearing Aids fit in your ears helping sound get into your auditory system more directly and eliminating some of the environmental noise you would normally hear. Also, the frequencies you are unable to hear are amplified and mixed with the sounds you are able to hear in a balanced way. This makes what you hear a lot more clear. Modern hearing aids can also block out background sound to make it easier to make out speech.

The site information is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. To receive personalized advice or treatment, schedule an appointment.